[OPINION] Where the sky meets the sea, an open letter to baby River

Text by Abby Boiser

It’s been raining a lot lately over here. There is a sadness that dampens the day, like a misty morning unraveling the loss of what could have been a beautiful life. Your absence is like the sky, still and everywhere. 

A day after your burial, the image haunts us: your grieving mother escorted by a dozen policemen as she stood in front of you. Still in handcuffs, she was only able to place her index fingers on your casket and she couldn’t even wipe her tears. Your grandmother was trembling at the side, screaming in pain. People were bearing your name on their placards and T-shirts as they called for your justice. At least 20 policemen and a SWAT team in full riot gear carrying guns and truncheons surrounded the entire perimeter of your funeral home.

And there you were, inside a small coffin, wearing a little white dress. I did not want your delicate little body to be stuffed inside that cramped, hollowed box. I thought that you should’ve been laid to rest on a vast space like in the middle of a meadow. The wind would slowly rustle through the trees and the birds would sing you a lullaby. When night comes, the sky above you would be dotted with hundreds of, silvery stars. But, in reality, your final days in this world ensued amid a horrific display of inhumanity.

It must have been lonely being separated from your mother during the last two months of your life, but don’t worry, for she stood by your side as you laid in your wake. The cruel government only allowed your mom three hours to be with you during her two-day furlough. You should’ve seen, though, how she raised her fist in front of the cameras, holding your portrait in the other arm — how she talked boldly to the media and called for your justice despite being restrained by policemen. 

You’re lucky to have a remarkable woman for a mother, do you know that? I wish you got to know more about her and how she became a community organizer for the urban poor and stood in the frontlines during demolitions. I can’t help but imagine that you would’ve probably grown up to be just as amazing as her, if only you were able to continue your life.

I don’t know you and I never will, but your memory will never rest easy in my heart. 

It’s painful because children like you are the reason why we have been waging this fight for years — so you can someday live in a free and just society — but you went away too soon to have that. 

As we mourn for you, we also cry for baby Marjon, Kian de Los Santos, Joshua Cumilang and the 122 other children whose lives were unjustly taken by this cruel, inhumane and heartless government. Your lives passed like a gentle breeze, but the misery you left with your death is heavier than a mountain.

I am sorry that you were born into a country that disregards our rights, slaughters the innocent and favors the corrupt and the rich. I apologize that they deprived you of your mother’s unparalleled love and care during your brief stay in this world. And more than anything, I wanted to apologize for how you will now be seen as just another casualty by the broken justice system, instead of being able to attain the carefree and innocent freedom of youth that should have been your birthright.

It pains me that despite the long and tiresome years of battling injustices and resisting this system to protect the likes of you, they still managed to take you away from us. This doesn’t mean that I — nor the countless others — will stop fighting. You, and all of our other slain children, mean far too much to us for that. 

This letter, I know, doesn’t make up for any of it.

Not for the unimaginable grief and pain your mother will endure. Not for the abuse and injustice they did to you. Not for the cessation of the promises and possibilities of your tomorrow. Nor the fact that you will never be able to make friends, to attend school, to open presents during Christmas, to grow up into a brave and courageous girl.

But here’s my promise: we will make sure that the darkness that surrounds your death will never extinguish the light of your life. For the short time that you existed in this world, you shared a wonderful love with your mother. And for as long as we live, we’ll carry the torch of love you sparked among us.  

Grief waxes and wanes, comes in paroxysms of sadness, denial, outrage, despair. But right now, we are in pain. We tremble for our helplessness to bring you back, to better protect you, to fight for you and your mother.  

After we grieve, we will pick up where we left off and continue our fight against the very system that took you. We will avenge your death by holding this callous and cruel government accountable for the crime they did to you. We will struggle even harder to create an equal and loving society for the Rivers of this world.

But today, there are no words. There is nothing to soothe the agony. There are no sounds to fill the absence of your heartbeat and your sweet giggle. No light to make the void less daunting.

As you sail your way across the horizon, where the sun meets the sea, you will feel no more hurting. No more pain.  

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